Ronald Reagan made history both at home and abroad during his time as president. His tax cuts helped the U.S. economy recover, and he appointed Sandra Day O’Conner to the Supreme Court, putting a woman on the bench in the highest court in the land for the first time in history. Reagan is perhaps best known, however, for his foreign policies. Reagan was president during the Cold War, and his foreign policies dealt extensively with undermining or defeating the Soviet Union. Reagan built up U.S. weapons and troops, provided aid to anti-communist movements across the globe and announced the Strategic Defense Initiative. The SDI, also called the Star Wars program, was a theoretical plan to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles while they were still high above the earth. The idea was mocked and is often described as a failure, but the SDI did play a role in ending the Cold War. The U.S.S.R. realized that such a program, if successful, would tip the delicate balance of the Cold War in America’s favor. The Soviet Union’s economic system, however, was unable to support the continuance of the Cold War arms race and they were forced to seek concessions. Later in history, the Israeli’s Iron Dome defense system would work in a similar fashion to shoot down nearly 90 percent of the missiles fired at the small nation.
In 1987, Reagan spoke at the Berlin Wall and challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” Reagan reportedly argued with his advisers up until the night before the speech about using the now-famous line. His advisers pushed for him to leave the line out, saying it was antagonistic, but Reagan refused. Two years later, the Berlin Wall was finally dismantled, and Germany began the reunification process.
Reagan possessed many leadership qualities, but one lesson to learn from his determined and passionate defense of freedom during the Cold War is this: A leader must be prepared to stand up for what they believe in, regardless of its popularity.